Monthly Archives: September 2008

I Feel Truly Ashamed

Paul Newman passed away on the 26th of September. May the man rest in peace.

My work colleague and blog regular Matt Etheridge alerted me to this sad fact today, I hadn’t heard, it’d been a busy weekend. He followed up with “you’ll be doing something about him on the blog then?” to which I initially thought, “yeah, of course I will”

Tonight, as I sat down to pen (or type) a comprehensive and heartfelt tribute, the realisation hit me……..

I haven’t seen a Paul Newman picture since I was a little boy….. And that was TOWERING INFERNO

He’s an actor I’ve always seemed to miss. I’ve only got 2 of his films in my collection, THE HUSTLER (Which I’m definately watching as SOON as I’ve finished here) and TORN CURTAIN. I’ve watched The Hustler once but it doesn’t count as I was really drunk and I’ve tried to watch Torn Curtain 3 times but can never get through it. The phone always goes, I have to go out, I GET BORED!

I can’t begin to answer how I’ve managed to miss BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, and THE COLOUR OF MONEY is literally the only Scorsese movie I’ve not seen.

So…. I’m sorry Paul, what can I say? Not much with any authority or knowlege.

I’m a new man learning about Newman, tonight it starts with THE HUSTLER. I’d appreciate a recomendation of where in his career I should go next.

………. I can almost hear Matt sharpening his knives of disdain on the grindstone of contempt.

RIP Paul.


Films I’d Love To See On The Big Screen #3

I’m really facinated by the “blaxploitation” genre and after watched a few of the more famous examples (FOXY BROWN, SHAFT, SUPER FLY) have developed a thirst for the lesser known pictures of this short but incredibly prolific period in the history of cinema.

BLACK CAESAR should be hitting my doorstep shortly as should BLACULA which stars William Marshall as the count. Both are obviously Blaxploitation takes on classic American cinema but I suspect the relationship between the films goes beyond a tongue in cheek adaptation with a funky soundtrack. The condition of black / white relations in the early 70’s, when most of these films were made, was volatile to say the least which makes the undertones of the plotlines so interesting to look at…..

…. They’re also quite funny. As the trailer below shows. Listen out especially for the line “Blacula: Dracula’s soul brother” …..

Baadasssss Cinema is a great documentary charting the rise and eventual fall of the genre should you wish to find out more.

Today’s Viewing

I went to bed rediculously early last night, had a nightmare then woke up at 5am bright as a button but unable to close my eyes again for fear of the demons returning. The following movies have filled my morning with joy…..

Don’t Get Rid of the Dead Wood!

You know you’ve seen a great picture when as soon as the credits start to roll you take action. You act as a direct result of what you’ve seen.

It happened last night.

The director was Tim Burton. The lead was Johnny Depp…..

The film…………. was ED WOOD.

The immediate action I took was to seek out the films of this passionate, yet sadly flawed filmmaker.(I’m going to dedicate a post to every film as it comes through) He has the unenviable honour of being voted the worst director of all time and having made the worst movie of all time, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Yet this was a man who loved making films. He lived for it. And although mainstream success never came his way, He was always on the hunt for another picture, there’s something DEEPLY lovable about that.

Quoted below (if the internet is to be believed) is Edward D. Wood Jr‘s last public writing (It was apparently written only 2 weeks before his death in 1978) which is in the form of sleeve notes for the PLAN 9 soundtrack which was released some years later, it’s quite a touching piece which really conveys the man’s love for his work. I love the section on how he had to bring the picture in for $800 and managed it by doing 250 camera set ups a day, I’m not sure if that’s possible but you can bet your ass it wasn’t far off…….

After reading the piece below, feast your eyes on the PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE trailer, it’s bloody awful but I feel drawn to it like an aardvark to a ball of wool. Pay special attention to the military stock footage (also mentioned in the sleeve notes) he’s seamlessly woven into the picture. Beautifully rubbish.

Writer-Producer-Director of “Plan 9 From Outer Space”
When the producers of this record album asked me to write some notes for the jacket, I was delighted. Needless to say, when I made “Plan 9 From Outer Space” in 1959, I never dreamed that it would still be playing on television to millions of loyal fans some twenty years later.

Of course, I always knew “Plan 9” was my finest work, but that doesn’t always guarantee a movie’s place in film history. So while big budget turkeys like “Cleopatra” and “Dr. Dolittle” quickly fade from the public’s memory, “Plan 9” endures. (Indeed, if I had guessed that “Plan 9” would hold up so well, I would have asked for more money up front.)
When I look back on those hectic early days, I kind of wish that dear old Bela Lugosi could have known that he was making a science-fiction classic in 1956. In point of fact, Bela thought he was shooting a horror film, titled “Tomb of the Vampire.” But after two days of location work, my good friend dropped dead without a warning and without giving two weeks notice. Since Bela had the lead role in the film, I couldn’t see any way to spread his five minutes of footage through a 90 minute movie, so the entire project was scrapped.

Another friend told me that I was crazy to throw away five minutes of Bela Lugosi footage, and he offered me the chance to shoot an entirely new film around the Lugosi scenes if I could bring it in under $800.00. I told him it would be no problem (don’t forget, $800.00 went a long way in those days), and six hours later I handed him the shooting script for “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” He was delighted and the deal was made.

Before you could say �Roger Corman,’ sets were built in my garage, clothes were borrowed from my closet (I personally supplied all the sweaters worn by Mona McKinnon in the film), and stock footage was purchased from Trident Films, Inc. Finally, friends who would work for nothing, and actors who would accept a cut in salary for a good role were hired. By cutting corners and doing 250 camera set-ups a day, we were able to finish the picture on time and under budget. (In fact, we had enough money left over to take the principal cast members to lunch at the Brown Derby.)

After some minor financial squabbles with the processing lab and several distributor back-outs, we finally premiered “Plan 9 From Outer Space” at the luxurious Brookdale Theater in El Monte. Some of the cast members were there, Tor Johnson and Criswell and Vampira, and we even rented a spotlight. (The damn thing never did work and I refused to pay for it. I also refused to pay for the theater’s toilet seat that Tor Johnson broke.) The party after the film was great fun, too. I can still remember the day one of our associate producers came up with the idea of digging up Bela Lugosi’s body and propping him up in his coffin in the theater lobby. It would have been a great publicity stunt, but the more I thought about it, the more tasteless the idea became. We ended up putting my plastic octopus from “Bride of the Monster” in the lobby.

The REAL Ed Wood.

The initial reaction to the film was predictably mixed… the fans loved it, and the critics killed it. Some of the reviewers actually made fun of our cheap cardboard sets. I mean, what did they expect for $786.27… the Paramount backlot? But time has proved the fans right. Not only is “Plan 9” a hit on late night television, but now it has been permanently preserved on this phonographic record, which contains nearly all of the film’s dialogue and music. I would be lax if I did not mention the wonderful music by Gordon Zahler. I think it is his finest work, surpassing even his superb scores for “Mutiny in Outer Space” and “Women of the Prehistoric Planet.”

Finally, a special note to all of my special friends. I am retired now, and living comfortably in the home of a good friend. I still keep a watchful eye on the Hollywood scene, and I still dream of the day when my sequel to “Plan 9,” “The Night of the Ghouls,” will be rescued from the Pathé Laboratory and released for all my fans to see and enjoy. Until that time, I manage to occupy myself by puttering in the garden and watching football on television.
So here is the record of “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed creating it.
Edward D. Wood, Jr.
December, 1978

My new filmmaking motto, inspired by Ed, is “Strive to be great but if you can’t, do it anyway”….. Filmmaking is a great profession embedded in a shitty business. That should never put us off though.

Look out for the “Ed Wood and other skid row notables” season coming soon to J.I.C.

Films I’d Love To See On The Big Screen # 2

“A beautiful woman by day,
A lusting Queen wasp by night”……….

…………. My kind of gal.

The Last Salesman

To celebrate finally getting the editing on PLASTIC underway, and the continuation of my new life of sobriety (6 days and counting) I treated myself to a black and white double. First up was the 1971 Peter Bogdanovich film THE LAST PICTURE SHOW.

This is Bogdanovich’s 3rd film but the first in which he was responsible for what’s on screen from start to end. His first movie, VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN, (based on a night out in Brechin perhaps) was actually a recutting and dubbing of the Russian sci fi film STORM PLANET. Producer extraordinaire Roger Corman had bought the rights to the picture so, as he was renowned for giving hungry young filmmakers a break (we NEED a Corman in Scotland) gave the eager Bogdanovich the task of redubbing the picture into English, shooting some extra scenes with cave girls in clam shell bras and basically creating a whole new, but utterly awful movie. So bad in fact he went by the pseudonym Derek Thomas in an attempt to forever distance his name from it. All the bad press (and there’s LOTS of it) makes me want to see it.

His second, and far superior effort was the 1968 film TARGETS. Corman was again involved in this production which led to a few conditions for the director. Firstly, he had to use stock footage from the 1963 picture, THE TERROR, which Corman himself directed. Secondly, he had to hire legendary horror actor Boris Karloff for 2 days as he owed Corman some time on his contract. Bogdanivich managed to satisfy both demands to brilliant effect and produced a hugely enjoyable movie. More on that later.

THE LAST PICTURE SHOW is a coming of age tale set in a tiny Texas town that has the appearance of a place not evolved or improved since the days of the early settlers, this despite the film being set in 1951-52.

Bogdonovic was meticulous in setting up a genuine aesthetic for this picture. The cinematography of Robert Sutees creates a starkness of space that compliments the barren expanse within the minds of the townspeople. I have to stress; this is not through a lack of intelligence. The town seems to have a hold on the people that remain there. They’re all searching for someone to call their own, someone who provides a basic level of contentment, but with such a minute population to choose from, massive compromises are made to ward off the threat of being alone. There’s also no score in the movie. All the musical elements are provided by practical means: a radio that happens to be on for instance, or by someone putting a tune on the juke box. Bogdanovich was insistent that the music only be from the period of the film or before, all in the name of authenticity.

Sonny Crawford

The search for stability is the driving force of all the pictures main characters. Duane Jackson (Played by a very young Jeff Bridges) has the best looking, or the single good looking girl in town Jacy Farrow. (Cybil Shepherd in her first role) Jacy does not reciprocate his feelings leaving the boy in a constant state of confusion and frustration that leads to him leaving town. Jacy herself has no clue what she wants. Being pretty, she has her choice but when the guy she wants gets married, she has to find another man quick for fear of ending up on the scrap heap. She has a liaison with the man her mother is having an affair with then ends up with Sonny Crawford, Duane’s best friend but again, this is not without upset. Sonny has a confusing search throughout the picture. Timothy Bottoms plays the part incredibly as Sonny goes from disappointment to disappointment but remains resolute and dignified. The strong writing brings a recognisable conclusion to everyone’s journey although not all are successful.

Jacy Farrow

This is a picture of huge complexity considering the setting and people we are dealing with. The human condition is delicately explored with the subtle strengths and weaknesses of the individuals being gently explored with great skill.

The film won 2 Oscars for the great supporting cast and was nominated for another 5. It was also the catalyst for the coming together of Bogdanovich and Cybil Shepherd, a famous Hollywood scandal.

My first exposure to the Maysles brothers work was about 15 years ago via a horrifically fuzzy VHS copy of the 1970 film GIMME SHELTER which featured The Rolling Stones notorious concert at the Altamont speedway in 1969. This is a gripping piece of documentary. Not only does it display what can go wrong when you hire the Hell’s Angels to do your security (Who’s idea was that?) but it also documents the end of the Hippy era. There was no free love at Altamont, only bad acid and outpourings of violence which in some cases, proved fatal.

Two years earlier they’d been in slightly less drug crazed company to make the documentary SALESMAN. For anyone who’s had to sell anything in their time (I certainly have) this film feels as relevant today as it did when it was made. The pressures that go with the job, the frequently uncomfortable interactions with the general public as you try to get money out of them face to face and the destructive effect of losing your belief are all on show in this gloriously honest picture.

The movie follows 4 salesmen round the United States. They’re in the bible business which means the word of god can be paid up at $1 a week. Like any sales environment, there are people who are more successful than others and it’s this competition, disguised as an honourable effort to spread the word of god, which is the most interesting element.

The clip below shows Paul, the films main protagonist and character having most trouble with the job, out on a couple of sits. Look out for the way he tries to turn people around, the faces of the people being sold to are especially wonderful. I watch this and immediately think of Jack Lemmon in the film GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. You wonder if he watched this picture while preparing to bring Shelley “The Machine” Levene to life.

Films I’d Love To See On The Big Screen # 1